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on 25 April 2009
I agree this is a stunning book with wit, reverence and lyrical descriptions, which make it a delight to read. I do have a real problem, however, with the technical material. On the whole, the recipes are superb and typical of the characteristic fragrance and lightness that makes Vietnamese my favourite cuisine. Unfortunately, there are several mistakes, with ingredients missing from the method or vice versa, steps missing and a bewildering list of very unusual ingredients. I know what perilla leaf is, but I doubt many other UK, US or Aussies do without serious research. I have no idea what nem powder is, neither does anyone in my local oriental delis and "half a packet" is hardly a helpful measurement.

It is a great shame, and the blame ultimately lands on the doorstep of the editor, who should have included a glossary and fewer errors to make this into a more user friendly book. It would get five stars in that event.

I would certainly recommend the book if you love Vietnamese food as I do; the recipes are unusual and seem to be more from the heart and home than other more professionally put together books. Because of the occasional frustrations, I would only recommend to a serious cook.
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on 17 November 2007
"Secrets of the Red Lantern" is an absolutely stunning book, the recipes are scrumptious and so is the food photography. The story behind the recipes and the story of the author's family history are amazing and gut wrenching. What a wonderful mix of family history and Vietnamese recipes, truly one of the most beautiful and unique "recipe" books out there. From the material cover of the book, to the personal photography and candid memoirs this is definitely one to add to your collection.
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on 2 January 2009
Firstly, this is a stunning looking book. Beatifully made, beatifully presented, with beatiful pictures. A work of art, and one of the many cookbooks available now that are simply a joy to look and read through, without even trying the dishes.

The text in the book exists in two forms; partly as a collection of recipes and partly as an autobiographical piece detailling the authors' family history - in the main their fleeing Vietnam during the war and subsequently settling in Autralia and opening up a successful food business. A lot of it details with the hardship they endured en route to their success and a difficult family life and one absolutely feels for them given some of the horrors they encountered. It does all, admittedly though, read something like one of the many David Pelzer-esque "traumatic life-story" novels that have become enormously successful over the past 10 years or so and are ten-a-penny in any major chain of bookstores. Which is fine, if that's your type of thing. It's not especially my type of thing however, and I'd add that it's simply not written well enough to warrant a particular draw for anyone who'd choose to buy the book for the autobiographical aspect. There are simply better books elsewhere that are written in this genre.

And so onto the recipe and food section. I'd long wanted an authentic collection of Vietnamese recipes, and this is unquestionably what you get here. A marvellously extensive range of varied and delicious sounding meals all well written and photographed. Vietnamese cookery is often, so it seems, quite involved and involves preparation of numerous stocks, sauces and condiments to go into many dishes, and the book is well laid out in this respect, with the requisite recipes for these component parts being displayed on the opposite or following page of the book, making it easy to understand the various stages of cooking. The recipes are, in the main, easy to follow although they do perhaps require some prior knowledge and expertise of cooking in order to follow them completely successfully, although this is not a particular criticism.

The recipes are, I'm absolutely sure, entirely authentic, but this is what can sometimes pose problems. The recipes often demand authentic Vietnamese ingredients (hop bap, betel leaves, etc,) and often offer no explanation as to what these are. It can take quite a bit of research to find out what indeed they are, even for someone who considers themselves to be quite savvy, food-wise. I'm lucky to live near a large Oriental Supermarket, but have still found it impossible to obtain some of the ingredients so I'd imagine that for someone not living near one this would be a huge problem. Also, bear in mind that the authors have settled in Australia and so the recipes often include ingredients native to Australia, (e.g. perilla, saw-toothed coriander, blue swimmer crabs, Balmain bugs, Barramundi etc.) which also take a bit of research and creative thinking to come up with alternatives. What this book desperately needs is a glossary, to explain what some of these weird and wonderful things are, and also perhaps to suggest alternative ingredients in the event of not being able to find them. A list of stockists for UK readers would also be of huge help!

So, in short then, a beautiful, fascinating and diverse selection of truly authentic recipes, interspersed with a lot of autobiographical filler which could have been improved dramatically with a few thoughts for those who might find it difficult to track those ingredients down.
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on 21 October 2009
This is a fabulous book.
I visited Vietnam with my wife and two other couples in September, 2008. We just loved the people, the food and the history we encountered. It was everything and more that we expected. While there, and while three of us (the wives) were being pampered at our resort in Hoi An, the other three of us (the husbands) went on a cooking course where we met some people from Sydney who told us about this fabulous Vietnamese restaurant in Sydney's Surrey Hills - "The Red Lantern".
When we returned home we discovered the family who had built up and were running the Red Lantern had produced this fabulous looking book.
In Australia we have a shared, if somewhat unfortunate, recent history with the people of Vietnam due to the Vietnam/American war. Our view of this shared history tends to be one sided and focused on the Australian soldiers who fought there and were so poorly treated when they returned home. With this fabulously presented book we see so much more than a collection of recipes. It provides an insight into the lives of the other casualties of this war once the Americans and Australians withdrew. It provides a glimpse into the ordeal endured by those Vietnamese who decided to abandon their home country and all they knew to seek a life elsewhere - somewhere with a completely different history and culture. The stories provide a very human insight into growing up Vietnamese in suburban Australia and, through the author's observations, you detect a growing appreciation of the hardship and fear that her parents must have faced and the bravery they must have shown to leave Vietnam with such an uncertain and dangerous future. Then, once in Australia, how hard they worked to adapt and to provide for their family.
This is a truly marvelous book.
As and aside, we have started watching "Luke Nguyen's Vietnam" (Luke is co-author of this book) television program on SBS which is a fascinating look at the fabulous food of Vietnam - I just want to go back!
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on 26 January 2012
From the stunning cover of this book you know you'll be getting something a little different.
Yes, some of the ingredients are hard to source in the UK. However, an asian supermarket and a bit of research will help you find either the specified ingredients or acceptable substitutes. The food itself is fantastic, the kind of food that you want to eat time and again. Yes, some of the recipes are a little complicated and time consuming, but they are usually worth it. Everything I have made from this book (about 4 of the recipes so far) has come out just as described.
Aside from the beautiful layout and the authentic recipes, what else does this book offer?
Well, it is part recipe book, part memoir. It is written by the sister of Luke Nguyen (presenter of a vietnamese cooking show recently shown on the Good Food channel). It recounts a family history, not always pleasant but always centred around the food. I don't know about anyone else's preferences, but I actually like to read cookbooks, and it's the ones like this that give me the most joy, even if I were never to actually cook from it. If I were to recommend something similar but with more accessible recipes for the average home cook, I would probably go for Falling Cloudberries: A World of Family Recipes.
To sum up, this is one for someone who frequently enjoys asian cooking, someone whjo likes to experiment and have long lazy days pottering in the kitchen, or for someone who enjoys a good story behind the recipes in their cookbooks. Whichever way, this book is thoroughly enjoyable.
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on 24 June 2012
The story of the red lantern was fascinating and gave a real insight into the Vietnamese way of life and the displacement of refugees after the war. The recipes were more difficult to master and it is hard to find the ingredients in the UK
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on 28 January 2013
have been to the restaurant, read the book from cover to cover and love the recipes and stories. a good buy.
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on 7 June 2012
More than just a cookbook, this is an incredibly well-written tale of the Nguyen's trip from Vietnam by boat to a refugee camp in Thailand to a Sydney suburb. I've enjoyed reading it as much as the recipes. A brilliant book I'd highly recommend.
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on 25 January 2016
Nice book, with good recipes
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on 14 January 2015
Friend likes it
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